CHARLESTON– Nine-straight wins. A 5-0 start in Ohio Valley Conference play. And now, alone in first place.

The Western Illinois men came up big at both ends down the stretch topping instate-rival Eastern Illinois 63-60 on Saturday afternoon, extending their win streak to nine, improving to 5-0 in conference play and taking sole possession of first place in league play.

Jesiah West’s layup with 29 seconds left gave the Leathernecks a 62-60 lead, then a block shot by Drew Cisse with two seconds left saved the day, giving Western Illinois (12-6, 5-0) the win. James Dent Jr. split a pair of free throws, providing the final margin.

The Leathernecks are next in action on Saturday, hosting Tennessee State at 3:30 p.m.

The game featured six ties and ten lead changes as the Panthers tried to rally from a second-half deficit as large as nine but came up short.

Western Illinois committed 19 turnovers and was outscored 20-1 off turnovers, but 58.5 percent (24-41) shooting from the field, including 53.5 (7-13) from three, allowed the Leathernecks to overcome their miscues.

Ryan Myers led the way, scoring 14 points. Quinlan Bennett and Jesiah West each finished with 12.

James Dent Jr. added nine and JJ Kalakon and Drew Cisse each scored six. Cisse added a team-high 12 rebounds and five blocks. Kalakon had a team-high five assists and three steals.

Western Illinois Hold on at Eastern, Winning 63-60

The first half was played close to even, with WIU’s 6-1 lead being the largest. The teams traded stops and baskets in the first 20 minutes with the Leathernecks leading 33-32 at the break.

The teams went back and forth to open the second half, forging a 39-39 tie at the 16:11 mark.

Western Illinois then went on a 10-2 run, taking an eight-point lead, 49-41, with 12:31 to go in the game.

The Panthers never led in the second half, but hung around, tying the game, 60-60 with 1:37 remaining.

After a scoreless possession by both teams, Kalakon found West cutting to the basket for the eventual game-winning score with 29 seconds left.

After Eastern Illinois ran down the clock, Cisse blocked a shot in the final seconds, handing Western Illinois its third-straight win in the series.

The nine-game win streak and 5-0 start in conference play are the longest since the 2012-13 season when the Leathernecks won 11 in a row and started Summit League play 6-0.

Western Illinois Hold on at Eastern, Winning 63-60
Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.
Western Illinois Hold on at Eastern, Winning 63-60

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